It’s widely understood that Germans have the world’s most powerful passport.
What this means in practice is that, for German citizens, obtaining a visa for most countries is rarely more than an administrative formality.
In fact, all ten of the most powerful passports on Earth are held by European nations, with Japan, Singapore and the United States following closely behind.
But what does it mean to be at the other end of the list?
For citizens of war-torn states such as Iraq and Afghanistan, the story is very different.
If you’re an Afghan or Iraqi national, for example, obtaining permission to enter a neighbouring country can be a bureaucratic nightmare, involving reams of paperwork, interviews with security personnel and stringent background checks.
And that’s if you’re eligible for consideration at all.
Medical case manager for Tangiers International Bshar Ali is responsible for facilitating the medical assessment and treatment of injured claimants – whatever their nationality.
A recent case involving multiple Iraqi nationals highlights the difficulties inherent in obtaining specialist medical treatment when your passport automatically raises suspicions.
The Iraqis had all sustained disfiguring injuries in three separate Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks while working as civilian military contractors in the country.
The explosions had left them with a range of very serious injuries – severe disfigurements, the loss of eyes and, in all three cases, damage to the tympanic membrane – otherwise known as the eardrum.
With tympanoplasty surgery unavailable in Iraq, it was necessary to fly the patients to Amman in neighbouring Jordan.
Bshar explained: “Plastic surgery for facial scars is available in Iraq but there is not a specialist centre for tympanoplasty. And also for reconstruction of the bone.
“That’s why we have to fly them into Amman, get them treated and then get them back to Iraq.
“The difficulty is they’re Iraqis – that’s really the major issue, so the screening process is crazy for them.
“They have to go through a security check, an interview with a security officer at the embassy and they get questioned about everything.
“And after that it takes about a month. Then they will allow them a one-entry visa that will expire within a month. If you don’t use it, it’s gone.”
While the process to enter Jordan as an Iraqi may be arduous, other countries are completely off-limits. Due to security concerns, countries like Kuwait have banned visa issuances to both Iraqis and Afghans.
Bshar said: “There is no way to bring an Iraqi into Kuwait. Mainly, it’s because of security. There was a huge bombing by Isis of a mosque in Kuwait where 28 Kuwaitis died which was carried out by an Iraqi citizen who had entered the country.”
Bshar’s expertise in medical case management across the region means he is perfectly placed to overcome the stringent bureaucratic hurdles in the way of his patients’ maximum medical improvement. But due to security concerns, even his patients are sometimes denied entry.
If this happens, he immediately begins arranging alternative destinations where treatment can be performed.
“For medical reasons, they generally make exceptions. But if the patient is from a known insurgent area, the visa will often get rejected.
“With Afghans, for example, if we can’t send them to India, we look to Pakistan, If Pakistan doesn’t work we look at Kazakhstan.”